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  • Ednold

South Umpqua 11/11/2022

Updated: Nov 13, 2022

Another holiday, and another Friday evening downpour. Luckily, we were headed south this time and by the time we reached Roseburg the rain was starting to let up. We were headed to Myrtle Creek. You know Myrtle Creek: That place where I-5 gets curvy and the speed limit on the interstate is 50 miles per hour. It was only fair that we finally got a look at the town and gave it a chance to be remembered for something more positive than that.

We took exit 108, crossed the 100-year-old Myrtle Creek Bridge over the South Umpqua River, and drove south down Main Street. I wouldn’t call it a “cute little town”, but Mrs. Ednold would, and did. I had a grandma named Myrtle, and the town reminded me of her, and if I’d seen her walking down the street she would have fit right in. Myrtle is a name you don’t hear much anymore. Why is that? Anyway, Myrtle Creek has the looks of a really nice place, but we didn’t see any bright lights or other signs that there was a high school football game taking place anywhere. I had heard that Myrtle Creek is the home of South Umpqua High School but, though it has a Myrtle Creek address, we had to keep driving a while to find it, and we discovered the Myrtle Creek area actually features 5 separate communities all within about a five mile radius of a place called Tri City, which is where the high school is located. It’s called Tri City because it’s right in the middle of Myrtle Creek, Riddle, and Canyonville, with Days Creek just a few miles away. Myrtle Creek, Canyonville and Riddle are real incorporated towns, while Tri City is an unincorporated suburb that acts as a sort of hub for the rest of them. I’m sure there’s a good reason all of the communities aren’t served by just one large school district, but it’s odd that Day’s Creek and Riddle have their own districts with their own high schools and the South Umpqua School District encompasses an hourglass-shaped area between them.

Myrtle Creek was incorporated in 1893, and Canyonville followed in 1901, but both had started out as settlements for gold miners and trappers in Umpqua County in the mid-1800’s, and you can still see ruts from the old Applegate Trail where it ran through just north of town. There is no Umpqua County anymore, but there used to be. Gold was discovered in the Umpqua River area in 1851 and the population got so large Umpqua County was created that same year. The following year there were so many people they had enough for another new county, so the eastern portion of Umpqua County was taken to create Douglas County. Ten years later when the gold rush was over the population had dwindled to the point that they didn’t need both counties, and what remained of Umpqua County was divided between Douglas and Coos Counties, and Umpqua County was gone.

Canyonville is about 8 miles south of Myrtle Creek along the river, and when I think of the town of Canyonville I think of two things. First, it has a big casino. In the 1850’s white settlers rounded up most of the natives in the area for relocation to reservations, but some of them hid in the hills outside of town and those families lived for generations on the fringes of society. In 1982 those seven branches of the ancestral family that had managed to avoid capture for 130 years were recognized by the federal government as the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe. Ten years after that they built themselves the Seven Feathers casino, which now has over a million visitors each year.

The other thing about Canyonville is that it used to be the home of Canyonville Christian Academy, also known as Canyonville Bible Academy. The academy was a christian boarding school that opened in the 1920’s, and most of its student body were international students when it was forced to shut down during the COVID pandemic and has now relocated. The only other thing I know about it is that in 1972 a girl at the school, Rose Gilbert, held the state records in the 100y dash, 220y dash, 440y, 880y, high hurdles and long jump. By 1972 you could only compete in 4 events at the state meet, so she won her 4 but was edged out by Mohawk and had to settle for second place in the team competition. A few weeks later she went to the Olympic Trials and, though she didn’t make the Olympic team, did set a national high school record in the pentathlon. The record stood for five years but apparently Rose hung up her spikes after that; I can’t find any mention of her ever competing again. But without her I’m sure I would never have heard of Canyonville Bible Academy and it never would have been mentioned in this blog, so if Rose is still out there somewhere I’m sure she’s feeling a profound sense of accomplishment that all her hard work finally paid off and she has now reached the very pinnacle of fame.

South Umpqua High School opened in Tri City in 1965. I don’t know if that was before or after the Mid-Town Grill opened for business, but the proximity of the two worked out well for us. The Grill doesn’t look like much from the street, but it was the closest place we saw for our pre-game meal and just happened to have some pretty delicious food. When we’d filled ourselves, it was a short trip around the corner to the school where the Lancers were already warming up. The South Umpqua school building is just on the other side of a fence from the interstate, and the football field is only another 100 yards away from all of the northbound traffic that would soon be hitting their brakes as they go through the Myrtle Creek curves.

The South Umpqua Lancers lost a AA state championship game in 1975, but then tied for the championship the next season before finally winning one on their third try in 1977. They played Siuslaw to another tie in 1981 and then lost to them in another championship game just last year. They came into this game with a 9-1 record, having finished second in 3A Special District 3. They won a tough game against Yamhill-Carlton in the first round of the playoffs, and would be hosting a Dayton team that finished third in Special District 2. The Pirates were 8-2 and had clobbered defending 2A champs Coquille in the first round. This sounded like a pretty good matchup, and I was looking forward to it.

Parking was a breeze in the one large, open lot, and we found the entrance to the field in the southwest corner. Ten bucks, a roster, a stamp on the hand, and I was making the walk around the old 6-lane rubber asphalt track to get the lay of the land. The first thing I noticed was the dimness of the lights. They could have doubled the wattage and it would have been just about right. It was definitely the darkest field I’ve ever seen. The typical aluminum bleachers were set up on the south side for the visitors from Dayton, and on the north side Kent Wigle stadium, named for the guy who had coached the Lancers to their first four trips to the state championship game, provided aluminum benches for the home fans. It’s a nice, covered concrete and steel grandstand, and on this night there was a little extra room because the South Umpqua band had a prior commitment at a Veterans’ Day event and their section was open for the rest of us.

It wasn’t raining as the game began, but it clearly had been earlier in the day and the natural grass field was already muddy. Those conditions didn’t get any better as the game went on and, unfortunately, that didn’t help the Lancers any. The visitors from Dayton ran the ball well and the Lancer defense would have had a tough time stopping them even on a dry field. None of their 3 or 4 runners were particularly big or fast or especially shifty, but they followed their blockers and didn’t go down easily. South Umpqua, on the other hand, are a passing team that just couldn’t get in sync. When their quarterback had time to throw, often the receivers would slip and fall in the mud, and when they stayed on their feet they had a tough time holding onto the ball. The Dayton Pirates ran out to a 28-0 lead by the end of the first quarter and were in control from the very beginning.

It was nice to finally watch a game on a soggy grass field, though. There were a lot of moms washing uniforms the next morning asking some version of the question my mom used to ask me after the game: “Was it really necessary to get COMPLETELY covered in mud?” Yes, mom. That’s part of the game. Nobody wants to be that one guy with a clean uniform at the end of the game. By the second half it got pretty cold, too, and then the fog started rolling in and it got a little difficult to see all of what was happening on the field under the dim lighting. I was happy to be under my blanket with a hot cup of coffee, watching from a distance, but the conditions were perfect for a football game.

At halftime, with the Lancers down 40-7 and no entertainment to keep me occupied, I made my way to the concession stand on the west side of the field. It’s a big concrete block building with restrooms at the back and a covered seating area outside that was full even on this chilly night. They offered a full menu of food including hot dogs and hamburgers, but I just stuck with the popcorn and coffee, which were cold and hot, respectively. Perfect.

With the game already decided, I don’t think either team was too excited to come back out after halftime and roll around in the freezing mire for another two quarters, and things slowed down a bit in the second half. There was no sense of urgency as the sides traded scores, and by the end the Pirates from Dayton had won 53-13 and secured a spot in next week’s semi-final game against #2 Cascade Christian. For the #3 Lancers, who were hoping to get back to the championship game after their loss there last year, it was the end of a 9-2 season and for the second time in two weeks we had watched a pass-reliant home team lose in less than ideal weather conditions to a lower ranked opponent that ran the ball almost exclusively. There may be a lesson there about football tactics in November. Or, it may just be The Curse of the Ednolds. Maybe next week we’ll find out.

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